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Another cold fusion claimant puts technology to the test

Another cold fusion claimant puts technology to the test

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News & Events - Engineering News

May 23, 2013

After years of dodging outside assessment of his technique, Italian researcher Andrea Rossi has had his engineering innovation in cold fusion independent tested, returning remarkably positive results, according to ExtremeTech.

If there has been any field of engineering research to draw the most scorn and criticism for false claims, it has probably been cold fusion, likely because of the immense potential the technology would hold if effectively harnessed. The biggest scandal came from a pair of chemists from the University of Utah who claimed to have sparked a cold fusion reaction in 1980, but there have been others since then.

Latest controversy
One of the most recent was when Rossi announced his claim two years ago that he had developed a new system that could effectively produce dramatically more energy than required to produce a fusion reaction.

Known as the Energy Catalyzer, or E-Cat, it is said to function by transforming nickel into copper with the introduction of hydrogen gas. These hydrogen atoms are forced into the nickel electrons to produce neutrons that are then more readily attached to the atom. The proton then loses the electron, leaving the metal fundamentally transformed.

A number of online forums, including ScienceBlogs, went into detail about how the reaction Rossi claimed to be initiating is effectively impossible at the pressures and temperatures involved.

"Of course, there is the fact that you've got to overcome the tremendous Coulomb barrier (the electrical repulsion between nickel and hydrogen nuclei)," wrote one critic, " which - according to our knowledge of nuclear physics - requires temperatures and pressures not found naturally anywhere in the Universe. "

Popular Science notes that the controversy was only stoked by the fact that Rossi refused to either reveal the mix of catalysts that ostensibly make the reaction possible or to have the process independently tested by NASA and the University of Bologna.

Successful test
Despite the heavy criticism and widespread skepticism, however, Rossi continues to maintain that his process has effectively solved the issue of cold fusion.

To that end, Rossi invited seven independent scientists to conduct their own assessment of the process, allowing them to monitor the performance of the reactor if not necessarily giving them any new insight into how it is meant to work.

The group's findings are set to be published in a new report, and suggest that the process has at least managed to create some "anomalous heat production."

The researchers used a system of infrared sensors in order to monitor the heat output from the reactor, comparing this to the input needed to spark the reaction in the first place. These measurements were made over the course of trial runs of 96 and 116 hours, though the team noted that in both cases the reactor was shut down rather than running out of fuel.

Though a significant amount of energy was needed to heat the tube containing the nickel, the tests suggest that the reactor managed to produce just under twice as much energy as consumed in the first test and more than four-and-a-half times as much energy after a few problems were addressed in the latter exercise. Rough estimates of the low-end energy density and power density of the reactor put them at 10,000 times and 1,000 times that of gasoline, respectively.

Skepticism remains
Despite excitement in some corners about the results, many people within the field remain skeptical about the underlying science of this approach, with some commenters questioning the methods of the assessment. However, a more thorough test is set to begin later this year, which could address some of these concerns.

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